Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Development
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Processes in Language Development
Most children learn how to talk without instruction. While there are several theories that describe this process, most agree that language development is highly predictable and is influenced by five key factors:
  1. Social – the child’s ability to recognize what the speaker is referring to, and an environment rich in language will positively influence a child’s language learning;
  2. Perceptual – the child’s perception is essential; e.g., hearing perception at 6 to 12 months can predict vocabulary size at 23 months;
  3. Cognitive processing – the child who is frequently exposed to language will learn faster than the child who is exposed to language less often;
  4. Conceptual – the child’s ability to relate words to concepts is tied to his/her mental age and knowledge of words; and
  5. Linguistic – the child’s current vocabulary influences new learning (e.g., toddlers usually understand that a new word refers to the object that they do not know).
 Read full message...
Language Development in English
Although there are differences in the rate of learning language, most children will learn to speak English in the following stages:
  1. Babbling (i.e., combining consonants and vowels such as in ‘baba,’ 7-10 months)
  2. Intentional communication (i.e., using eye gaze, gesture, and babble for communicative purposes, 8 months)
  3. First words (90% of children say their first word by 14 months)
  4. Short word combinations (i.e., 2- or 3-word combinations, such as “Mummy up” or “More juice please,” 16-30 months)
  5. Noun and verb inflections (i.e., using ‘s’ to indicate plural in ‘cat-s’ or ‘ed’ in ‘play-ed’ to indicate past tense, 16-30 months)
  6. Complex sentences (i.e., among the earliest complex sentences are multiple parts  connected with and, because, so, when and if; 28-45 months)
  7. Including the listener in conversation (i.e., turn-taking exchanges, 36-72 months)
  8. Telling simple action oriented stories (narrative abilities predict later language growth, reading comprehension, and other aspects of school success, 6-7 years)
Parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals can use this information to track the progress of a child in their care. Read full message...
Language Development in French
Native French language learners meet specific language milestones in a predictable order. Within the first few years of life, a French-speaking child will learn the majority of his/her language by speaking, listening and interacting with others. French speaking children are able to recognize speech patterns and voice melodies, or intonation, from a young age, just as English language learners do. When pronunciation is difficult, many young children will simplify to make communication more manageable. While the process of simplifying pronunciation occurs in both English and French, the patterns in which this process occurs are different. Additionally, the patterns of development and number of nouns and grammatical words used by toddlers differ between native English and French speakers. In both languages, children will continue to expand their vocabulary and will improve their use of grammatical structures as they age.
Language assessments in French and English typically involve three components: Read full message...
Language Development in Arabic
Arabic is spoken as a first language by over 200 million people and is used as the language of worship by more than 1.65 billion Muslims around the world. There are two broad forms of Arabic that co-exist and are used for different purposes:
  1. the spoken form used in everyday informal communication and
  2. the written form (Modern Standard Arabic or MSA), learned at school and used in written and formal communication.
While MSA is the official language of 20 Arab states, each region has its own dialect. Arabic children first learn the dialect spoken in their community and only later learn MSA through formal instruction. MSA is not a native language for any Arabic child. Read full message...
Multilingual Language Development
When defining bilingualism, age of second language acquisition, proficiency, continued exposure, and context of language use all must be considered. As a result, bilingualism should be regarded as a continuum of skill levels.  Simultaneous bilingualism refers to circumstances in which two languages are acquired prior to one year of age, whereas sequential bilingualism refers to circumstances in which one language is initially acquired, followed by a second. Bilinguals are sometimes categorized according to their proficiency and dominant language, the context in which they learn a second language (L2) and the amount that they use their first language (L1). Social and environmental factors, such as family attitudes towards both languages and the availability of community programs also contribute to bilingual language learning. Read full message...
Language Development in French-English Bilinguals
Bilinguals have the ability to communicate in two languages. Current research indicates that earlier and equal exposure leads to a stronger proficiency in both languages.
There are several characteristics specific to French-English speech and language development  Read full message...
Language Development in Canadian Aboriginal Children
Aboriginal children who speak an Aboriginal language[1] upon school entry are considered to be learning English as a second language (ESL). However, Aboriginal children who do not speak an Aboriginal language, but who use a First Nations English dialect, are also learning a new language – the Standard form of English. It is important to note that ESL programs are inappropriate for First Nations English dialect students as these programs are designed to assist with assimilation into the mainstream culture and learning the dominant language.
Unfortunately, many young Aboriginal children who use First Nations English dialects are wrongfully labelled as delayed or deficient by teachers and speech language pathologists (SLPs). Researchers recommend that these children instead be treated as users of a different variety of English, focusing on positive accomplishments in their process of holistic, lifelong, and experiential learning. Children can learn more than one language successfully through effective language programming, acknowledging First Nations English dialects and supporting the learning of Standard English. Read full message...
Speech and Language Disorders
Communication begins in the very first days of life and undergoes three periods:
  1. Birth – 6 months (infants communicate unintentionally through their cries, gazes, vocalizations and early gestures);
  2. 6 months – 18 months (infants begin to communicate intentionally, e.g., they point at an object while directing adult’s visual attention to it);
  3. 18 months onward (children use language as the primary means of learning and communicating).
Most young children develop language and speech naturally, but some experience difficulties in learning to understand and use language. These children often have speech or language disorders, which may put them at a greater risk for learning, social, and behavioural problems. Children with identified language impairments at age 5 are about 8 times more likely to have learning disabilities at age 19 than their peers. Thus, identification, assessment and intervention are important in the early years as they will impact children’s long-term outcomes. Read full message...
Specific Language Impairment
Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have significant problems in learning to talk, despite developing normally otherwise.  These children do not have hearing problems or physical disabilities that could explain their delays. In fact, a child cannot be diagnosed with SLI unless he/she scores within the normal range on nonverbal IQ. Children with SLI have poor vocabulary and grammar, as opposed to poor articulation or stuttering (speech impairments). A typical child with SLI at age 7 or 8 may sound like a 3-year-old (e.g., “me like cake” rather than “I like cake”). Approximately 7% of children have SLI, and the degree to which they are affected varies greatly. Development of SLI is strongly influenced by genetics; however, environmental factors can have an effect as well.

SLI is diagnosed when a child has extremely poor language skills; these children may score in the bottom 10% of children his or her age on well-designed language tests. Diagnosing SLI requires testing IQ, which is difficult to do in children younger than 4 years of age. Since early language delays put children at risk for a range of negative outcomes, including low literacy levels, poor mental health, and poor employment, it is recommended to begin treatment as early as possible. Research shows that early intervention can modify both short-tem and long-term outcomes.  Read full message...
Speech Sound Disorders
Children with Speech Sound Disorders (SSDs) represent 91% of school-based Speech Language Pathologists’ (SLP) caseloads. Approximately 16% of all children at 3 years of age and 3.8% at 6 years of age have speech delays. Children whose speech is difficult to understand by 5 years and 6 months are likely to have difficulties in language, reading and writing, with 50-70% struggling academically through Grade 12. Thus, early assessment and intervention by an SLP are key to success for a child with an SSD. 
There are generally five goals of an initial assessment: Read full message...
Language Delay in Disadvantaged Populations
Children’s early language development lays the foundation for their literacy skills and, in turn, their school readiness and school performance. This is why the interactions that children have with their parents and other caregivers prior to formal schooling are so important. The following social risk factors can have an effect on the development of a child’s language and literacy skills:
  1. Socioeconomic status (SES) – in which family income and the level of parental education play a significant role;
  2. Race/ethnicity – children from ethnic/racial minority backgrounds often come from low SES families and are more likely to perform poorly at school and drop out than the population at large; and
  3. Language minority status – in the Canadian context, meaning that a language other than English or French is spoken at home.
In order to promote language skills of children from low SES, racial, and linguistic minority status backgrounds, it is important to begin supporting their language development and learning early in life. Read full message...
Processes in Reading Acquisition
The process of reading involves the ability to identify visual shapes, determine sounds, and recognize meaning. It can be summarized with a model, suggesting that it is possible to recognize a word via its connections between spelling (orthography) and sounds (phonology), or between spelling and meaning (semantics).

There is no one centre within the brain that is responsible for reading. Instead, several regions share this role. Studies of damaged brains indicate that deficits associated with each area support the above mentioned model of the process of reading. However, given the variability and vast differences in extent of brain damage, as well as individual variation, studying brain damage provides only a hypothesis of what may or may not be true in reading. Neuroimaging studies, using PET and fMRI technologies, are beginning to provide more specific evidence for this process. Read full message...
Processes in Writing Acquisition
A great number of elementary school students struggle with writing. While research in reading development is readily available, research in writing development is still in the beginning stages. Several models have been used to describe the biological processes that affect written ability, with the Developmental Model of Written Expression being the most current one in the field.  Read full message...
Early Literacy in English
Literacy development begins long before children enter school or even preschool. Early experiences in the home can have a significant impact on children’s reading success later in life. The following early literacy skills are related to later literacy learning:
  1. ABC knowledge – the ability to recognize and identify either the name or the sound of an upper or lower case letter, presented at random;
  2. Phonological awareness – the ability to recognize different sounds of oral language and to separate meaning by word, syllable or sound;
  3. Concepts about print – the awareness of print concepts, ability to differentiate between pictures and text and understand the direction of the given alphabet;
  4. Rapid naming – the ability to quickly name letters, numbers, and pictures; and   
  5. Oral language – the ability to understand and communicate in spoken words.
The process of learning these skills is not a linear one (e.g., children can gain sensitivity to sounds without knowing the letter names), but all of these skills will need to be closely integrated to achieve functional levels of literacy. Read full message...
Word Reading and Reading Fluency in English
The ability to accurately and fluently decode words is important to understanding a written message. Traditionally, oral reading fluency measures have been used to assess students’ progress (i.e., a student reads a passage out loud and the number of correctly read words per minute is calculated). However, since most reading is done silently, new measures of silent reading fluency are beginning to gain popularity. There are now silent reading fluency assessment tools that are as good as or better than those used to measure oral reading fluency for progress monitoring. In addition, since silent reading fluency measures can be administered in a group, they are more efficient and cost effective.
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Reading Comprehension in English
Reading comprehension is the ability to understand written text. It involves interpreting meaning from text by decoding words, understanding vocabulary, and creating connections between these and the reader’s prior knowledge and experience. Unlike listening and oral comprehension, which develop fairly naturally, reading comprehension requires explicit teaching. Children need to be motivated and interested in reading to become successful readers. However, if they do not have the necessary skills or interest in the content of the texts they read, children may lose interest in reading. There are two groups of children who experience significant difficulties with reading comprehension:
  1. children with reading disabilities (those who have problems with word reading)
  2. children termed “poor comprehenders” (those who have language comprehension difficulties that interfere with reading comprehension).     
A key feature in learning to read and developing reading comprehension skills is the acquisition of vocabulary and an understanding of words Read full message...
Spelling in English
In the past, spelling was viewed as a learned habit. Today, spelling is seen as more than just memorizing lists of words. Spelling is a complex, creative and life-long process that requires the knowledge of:
  1. phonology (awareness of sounds in spoken words);
  2. orthography (awareness of letters in written words); and
  3. morphology (ability to recognize word parts, e.g., roots, suffixes, and prefixes, that convey meaning). 
Children are also forced to employ different spelling strategies in order to learn spelling irregularities that occur in English (e.g., “you, said, one, do, are”).
Research shows that even beginning spellers use all three sources of knowledge (phonological, orthographic, and morphological) to guide their understanding and application of spelling rules. Children progress from simple to increasingly complex patterns within each type of knowledge. Read full message...
Reading Acquisition in French Immersion
In Canada, many parents choose to enrol their children in French immersion programs, in which literacy skills are usually taught in French before formal instruction in English is introduced. Research indicates that:
Even though French immersion programs have been shown to be successful, many students still drop out, primarily because of reading difficulties. Read full message...
Reading Acquisition in ESL children
Current research indicates that just like native English speakers, ESL learners can also be assessed for and identified with reading difficulties. Both native-English-speaking and ESL learners with true reading disabilities are likely to face difficulties in word recognition, decoding, and spelling. Many skills involved in reading fluency are cognitively based, meaning that they have little to do with language proficiency; as a result, these two groups of learners are thought to be cognitively similar. There is also evidence to suggest that for ESL learners with a reading disability, both languages will be affected. Poor reading comprehension can sometimes be attributed to ESL status, but may also be affected by a variety of other factors, such as background and cultural knowledge, memory, and an awareness of reading strategies (i.e., identifying and defining unknown words). Read full message...
Reading Acquisition in Canadian Aboriginal Children
Limited empirical research is available on this topic. As a result, the following key messages are representative of a small scope of research regarding reading and Canadian Aboriginal children. Read full message...
Reading Acquisition in Bilinguals
The most common type of bilingual learners in Canada are first and second generation immigrants who are learning English or French as a second language. There are two broad categories through which Canadian schools promote bilingual education:
  1. Programs in which all classes are taught in the majority language of the community (English or French) – language minority students are placed in the mainstream classroom with native speakers of English or French.
  2. Programs that aim to promote children’s proficiency in a language other than English – for example, French immersion (children experience at least half of the school day in a language other than their native language) or heritage language programs (children receive the majority of their instruction in English, with some additional classes offered in their home language).
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Reading Acquisition in Chinese-English Bilinguals
Learning both Chinese and English at the same time can be difficult because these two languages are so different. Some of the main differences are as follows:
  1. There is no alphabet in Chinese. Instead, symbols are used to represent words. Most words are compound words, made up of two or more morphemes (simplest units of meaning). For example, the word “snowman” is comprised of two morphemes (“snow” and “man”), each of which has its own pronunciation and meaning.   
  2. Chinese is a tonal language. Depending on the tone or intonation used to pronounce a word, the word will have a completely different meaning.
  3. Spoken Chinese has a fairly simple phonological structure. For example, there are no consonant clusters in Chinese (e.g., “brave” or “play” in English).
Generally, Chinese children use the following skills to learn English: Read full message...
Neuroscience of Reading Disabilities in Children
Within the brain, there are several regions that are related to the ability to read. Researchers have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to visualize these areas. MRI technology has been identified as a beneficial tool for research because it is:
1.    safe;
2.    straightforward for use with children (children are only required to lie still for a minimal amount of time); and
3.    effective for identifying brain structure differences. Read full message...
Difficulties of Reading Acquisition in Chinese
Reading disabilities can occur in children who speak both Western (i.e., English, German) and Asian (i.e., Chinese, Korean) languages. As Chinese has different linguistic characteristics than English, identification and classification of reading disabilities may be different than for English-speaking children. Read full message...
Processes in Numeracy Acquisition
In mathematics achievement, a notable difference exists between males and females, as well as between ethnic groups. Differences between school-age boys and girls in learning, as well as between high- and low-achieving students, indicate that some concepts are easier to grasp than others for each respective group. In the U.S., African American and Hispanic students have been noted to underperform in comparison to Anglo American students, who, in turn, are outperformed by Asian students. These patterns of performance may be affected by patterns of course-taking, motivation and self-esteem towards mathematics, speed of math-fact retrieval, and additional factors such as socioeconomic status and gender-based beliefs. Read full message...
Early Numeracy

Children gain an understanding of mathematical concepts early in life. Many of these ideas are developed during informal, naturally occurring learning opportunities. Current assessment tools that measure learning experiences in very young children are thought to greatly under-represent their value. The four main methods used to assess early mathematics experiences are:
  1. Reports on children's mathematics – this method allows parents to discuss their child’s knowledge of mathematical concepts;
  2. Observations of children's activities – this method involves following children in their daily lives, taking careful note of their mathematical experiences;
  3. Audiotaping of children's activities – this method removes the need for an observer, allowing children to have naturally occurring interactions;
  4. Videotaping of children's activities – this method combines both the observation and audiotaping approaches but removes the physical presence of an observer.
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Mathematics in Primary School (ages 6 through 8)
There still remains much to be learned about the development of children’s numeracy skills. One skill that is known to be important for the development of more complex mathematical skills is number sense (i.e., a mental number line). It includes such skills as performing calculations, using place value knowledge and using numbers in problem solving. In most school curricula, number sense skills begin with exploring smaller numbers and progress to reading, writing, and manipulating larger numbers. Counting is also introduced early on in primary school and is a strong predictor of later mathematical skills. 

Mathematical development requires three types of knowledge Read full message...
Mathematics in Middle Childhood (ages 9 through 11)
Assessment plays an important role in teaching and learning math concepts, particularly in middle childhood (ages 9 through 11). Assessment and instruction go hand in hand as in order to provide effective instruction, teachers need to know when to intervene by continuously assessing a student to see what he/she is learning in their class.  Read full message...
Factors Affecting Numeracy Acquisition
Current research indicates that language plays a significant role in mathematical development in many ways. Because even young children under one year show an awareness of the changes in the number of items in small sets (below 4) and of one number being much greater than another in large sets (e.g., 8 items versus 16 items), some research indicates that the concepts of numbers and numeracy develop independently of numerical sequences (i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Other research supports the idea that children begin to understand number sequences and quantity at the same time. A final theory combines these two ideas, and suggests that learning the number sequence begins the recognition of the link between number words and number concepts. For children with specific language impairments, learning a number sequence can be particularly difficult. Read full message...
Numeracy Difficulties and Disorders
It is a well-known fact that some children have difficulty learning math. Dysfunctions in specific areas of the brain are thought to cause developmental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mathematics learning disability (MLD) and dyslexia (or reading disability). Recent evidence indicates that MLD rarely exists on its own, and occurs more frequently along with other disorders, such as ADHD or dyslexia. When mathematics disabilities occur along with ADHD, a child is likely to have difficulties with calculations throughout his/her life; however, it is still unknown why the two disorders co-occur. Because ADHD is frequently treated with stimulant medications and because of the known co-existence of ADHD and MLD, research investigating the effects of stimulants on mathematic ability is needed. When dyslexia and MLD co-exist, phonological processing (i.e., the ability to manipulate the sounds of a language) is known to be affected as well. Because of the co-existence of these disorders, identification and intervention can be difficult.
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Influence of Literacy and the Environment on Language
In school, children learn to read by learning the skills needed for efficient and accurate decoding and comprehension of text. Later, they use these skills in order to read to learn, to acquire knowledge. Learning language and learning to read are therefore related, but separate skills. Early reading and comprehension skills serve as an important precursor to later language, academic and workplace successes. Read full message...
Impact of Literacy on Individuals and Society
Strong literacy skills are essential for future learning and self-reliance. Not having strong literacy skills can lead to a lifetime of economic and social insecurity for individuals and their children. In today’s society, it is more important than ever to have higher levels of literacy for three reasons:
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